Putting the You in UX: Behind the Scenes of Lawyer-Driven Legal Software

“You can observe a lot by watching.”
 Yogi Berra

When it comes to legal software, there’s “easy.”

And then there’s easy.

“Easy” it what a lot of products promise, but sometimes they equate the term with taking a minimalist approach. So minimalist, in fact, that when you sit down to use it you’re greeted by a seemingly blank screen void of anything that invites action, information or organization.

Easy, on the other hand, is what products are that just make sense right out of the gate. You log in and immediately know what things are, and why they are where they are. Everything feels natural, intuitive and…well…easy.

Ironically, making things easy is really anything but.

The Science Behind Easy

Dr. Deane Byrd, Ph.D. is a User Experience (aka UX) lead for LexisNexis Firm Manager, the company’s flagship online practice management tool.

Her job sounds simple enough: make Firm Manager simple to use.

Behind that, though, is a constant cadence of observing, talking to, and listening to customers. Mostly observing, as it turns out.

“Users don’t always ask for things,” Byrd says. “In fact, they might not realize what they should be asking for because the problem is more obvious to someone outside the situation. A lot of times, you need to look for pain points in the way they do things and then offer them the solutions.”

She’s learned through years of experience that a critical step in developing useful tools for attorneys and their staff is understanding how they work and identifying unique challenges they face throughout the day.

The goal, says Byrd, is to make running law firms easier and more efficient, so attorneys can spend less time on office administration and more time doing what they’re great at: practicing law.

How Swapping Out Sticky Notes Led to a 40% Increase in Billables

Through interviews and site visits, Byrd noticed that firms were often using unreliable methods for capturing billable time.

Most common: sticky notes.

Second place: Frantic, month-end rifling through notebooks, emails, calendars, napkins, et al. to recall billable time. Not surprisingly, most firms acknowledged losing a significant amount of money from poor time tracking.

Knowing that Firm Manager manages so much of a firm’s matter activity, the team saw an opportunity to help its users avoid leaving billable time on the table.

These observations, she adds, was the inspiration behind Money Finder, a feature in Firm Manager that helps attorneys capture and uncover up to 40% more of the billable time that most attorneys miss.

It’s so effective, Byrd notes, users tell her the feature helps them capture one or two activities that pay for the technology for the entire year. Not surprising, considering a study on attorneys who embrace practice management showed a whopping 1,000 to 4,000% ROI.

Watch, Build, Test, Repeat

According to Byrd, involving users early and often in the software development process is an important step in developing tools that are valuable to customers.

“We take a highly iterative approach to product development,” she notes. “We constantly engage attorneys early in the process, so we can ensure the tools and features are both easy to use and meet their needs.”

Byrd says the differences between a simply good user experience and a great one is user engagement from the beginning and a commitment to product evolution based on changing needs.

While Firm Manager customers hail from myriad different legal practice areas, they all have a unique set of challenges and needs.

“Litigators often have very specific needs versus transactional attorneys,” adds Byrd. “Our job is to find a way to address these needs across our customer audience.”

3 Tips to Surprise and Delight Users

Fortunately, Byrd offered some insights about what it takes to deliver an exceptional customer service experience.

Here are three tips that stood out:

  • Engage Customers Early and Often. Each step in an effective customer program should engage users throughout the entire process from the very beginning of the engagement, through the entire usage lifecycle and repeated, as necessary. Be willing to acknowledge where the solution isn’t working and pivot.
  • Don’t look for users to articulate pain points, offer solutions. One of the best ways to surprise and delight customers is to offer solutions to problems they didn’t know existed, like the Money Finder. By observing and conducting regular focus groups, a lot can be learned about how attorneys work and where they’re falling short.
  • Understand People are Reluctant to Change. By nature attorneys, and people in general, are reluctant to change. In order to get them to work and think differently, they need to understand how a new solution will benefit them and make their jobs easier, without the overhead of a steep learning curve.

A tool can have all the features in the world, adds Byrd, but if it’s not intuitive and centered around the user versus what ‘we’ think’, then it’s probably not adding value.

In the end, delivering a great user experience starts and ends where it always should: with the needs of the customer.

***

This post is by Carla Del Bove, who provides support to the business of law software product line based in the LexisNexis Raleigh Technology Center.

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Putting the You in UX: Behind the Scenes of Lawyer-Driven Legal Software

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